Ahead of ThesFest 16 which will be held n Lincoln, Nebraska from June 20 - 25 (yes, we will be there!), Natasha Shaffer from Educational Theatre Association asked ITO (International Thespian Officer) Candidates on the International Thespian Festival Discussion Page to identify a specific, meaningful experience they have had during their theatre education and explain why it is important to them. The following response was written by J. Tucker Greer from Owensboro, KY. I found this response to be insightful and extremely well-written. It details an incredibly creative way one drama teacher guided students in character development while teaching them a valuable lesson about positive versus negative reinforcement.
Way back in middle school (okay, three years ago,) I was in a production of "Hoodie" by Lindsay Price. If you know this play, then you know that it is a daunting show for a group of 7th & 8th graders. It pushes you to look at the lives of the misfits, the odd balls, and the popular. It makes you determine where you fit in, and that is not an easy story to tell. At our young age, most of us had not used back story to help us develop a character, much less develop us as individuals. Our director decided that we needed to get in touch with ourselves first, before we could dig into our characters.
She brought us together on stage one afternoon, and gave us each two post-it-notes. On the left and the right sides of the house, she had hung two sheets of bulletin board paper. She instructed us to think for a few seconds about something nice someone had said about us. We were to write the word on a post-it and then stick it on the stage left wall. My post-it said "funny" and I proudly stuck it on the wall. Other words on the wall: silly, pretty, happy, nice, etc.
She brought us back to the stage and then asked us to think of about a time when someone said something rude or unkind. It was amazing how quickly we posted our negative comments. It took less time to think of the negative than it did the positive. This time my post-it said "fat" and I sure didn't feel proud, as I stuck it on the wall. Other words on this wall: ugly, rude, witch, jealous, etc. I can tell you that we didn't come back to the stage with the same energy that we'd had before.
As we sat back down, our director threw a bunch of post-it pads on to the edge of the stage and she said, "Write down any other comments someone has said about you and put them on the corresponding walls. Positive or negative, it is up to you." It was crazy to me how quickly we filled up the negative wall. Yes, we continued to put up positives, but the negative wall had more words by the end of our rehearsal that day.
You wouldn't think writing a few words on a piece of paper would leave you emotionally drained, but that day, we all felt the power of words. She left the boards up the entire week and each time we remembered, or heard, a comment, we were free to add the word to the boards. As the week progressed, she even allowed her classes to participate and by the end, the positive wall had over 300 yellow post-its, but the negative had almost 600. The negative wall doubled the positive.
This activity helped each of us dig into the characters we were portraying, but it did so much more. It taught me a valuable lesson; it is much easier to believe (and remember) the negative comments that we hear about ourselves. I decided then and there that I don't want to be the reason someone has a post-it for the negative wall. I want to help add to the positive by using words that are supportive and kind.
I continue to look for the positives in my life and the lives of others and I will forever be grateful for this lesson and all that it taught me.